Maggie Hodgson - Speaking My Truth

Maggie Hodgson - Speaking My Truth

Maggie Hodgson

From From Truth Truth to Reconciliation to | 359 | 359

Maggie Hodgson, a member of the Nadleh Whuten Carrier First Nation, works

locally, nationally, and internationally on justice and healing initiatives. She was

the founder and host for the first “Healing Our Spirit Worldwide” gathering held

in Edmonton, Alberta, in 1992. The gathering attracted more than three thousand

participants from around the world. Maggie spearheaded the successful national

campaign, “Keep the Circle Strong, National Addictions Awareness Week,” which

has grown to involve fifteen hundred communities and seven hundred thousand

people. She is co-founder and national co-chair of Canada’s National Day of Healing

and Reconciliation, celebrated each year on May 26th as part of an international

movement that began in Australia. Maggie has also served as an advisor to the World

Health Organization on addictions prevention.

Among her many awards for work in community development are the National

Aboriginal Achievement Award, United Nations Community Development Award,

Canadian Public Health Community Development Award, Alberta Aboriginal Role

Model Award, and Alberta Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Commission Award of

Excellence. She has two honorary doctorates: one conferred by the University of

Alberta and a second by St. Paul’s University in Ottawa. From 1982 to 1997, she

served as chief executive officer at the Nechi Institute.

In “Reconciliation: A Spiritual Process,” Maggie addresses the pivotal role of

connecting or reconnecting with spirituality in promoting healing and reconciliation.

Ironically, it was the combination of laws forbidding participation in ceremonies

and the imposition of a residential school system that stripped individuals of their

spirituality in the first place: this is at the root of the need for healing today. Maggie

recounts how Aboriginal people have taken the initiative to reclaim their spiritual

practices and to engage in the hard work of healing. She returns again and again

to the words of Abe Burnstick, one of her teachers, who promoted the moral high

road of personal choice: “It’s up to you,” Elder Burnstick reminds us. She recounts

two stories of Survivors, now Elders, who received compensation for their years in

residential school and how they used the money to support ongoing healing. By

following these stories, we learn that money can be used for good ends, but it is the

lifelong work involved in healing the spirit that leads to true reconciliation. This article

is imbued with lessons if we care to look for them.

360 360 | |

Reconciliation: A Spiritual Process

“It is up to you!” Elder Abe Burnstick

Reconciliation is a Western concept that describes a process of bringing one’s

spirit to a place of peace. The long-term goal of reconciliation is to prepare

ourselves for the time we go to the other side in peace. Peace is a state of

spirit. We get there through hard work on our part or a willingness to ask the

Creator to help us find peace in our hearts. The process of reconciliation is

embodied in our mind, flesh, spirit, and attitude. We either choose to stay

in pain and in anger or we are willing to do the work to effect change for

ourselves. This does not necessarily mean the person or the government or

the church that hurt us has to be sorry before we come to a place of peace.

Coming to a place of peace and setting our spirits free from pain is a longterm

process for most people and communities. Finding that place in our

spirits is a lifelong journey. The reward for doing our work is being a people of

hope, spirit, and commitment. We do this to ensure that our grandchildren

will not have to live with our spiritual, emotional pain.

Many former residential school students experienced trauma from being

disconnected from their family. Those who have moved forward understand

that in order to heal from our pain we have to speak our truth and take

responsibility for change. We have chosen to reverse the central pillars of

the intent of residential schools and surrounding legislation that drove a

spike into the hearts of First Nation, Métis, and Inuit peoples. The chilling

language surrounding the “Indian question” clearly defined the legislators’

intent, which was to assimilate Aboriginal peoples by outlawing traditional

ceremonies, removing children from families, and cutting off access to

language and sense of identity. In 1920, Deputy Superintendent General of

Indian Affairs Duncan Campbell Scott told Parliament that the object of

assimilation was to continue “until there is not a single Indian in Canada that

has not been absorbed into the body politic and there is no Indian question.” 1

One cannot separate residential schools from those policies because they

decreed that our children should not live with their parents and should not

have access to ceremony while they were being trained to believe our cultural

beliefs and ceremonies were of the devil.

When the Canadian government declared illegal the practice of Native

ceremonies such as the Potlatch and the Sun Dance, the result was a focused

attack on the spirit of our peoples. It was a genocidal attack on our spirit that

would impact up to five generations (or one hundred years) of our peoples

From Truth to Reconciliation | 361

who attended residential schools. Taking away these and other ceremonies

meant taking away the ideas, values, and principles basic to community

mental health. With the ceremonies went security, identity, ideology, rituals,

belonging, reciprocity, and beliefs along with responsibility for actions,

access to resources, time together, healing, and justice. The destruction of

ceremonies was the core of the Canadian government’s genocidal policies.

It served as a knife cutting into the heart of our culture. These policies

were reinforced by the four main churches’ position within the residential

schools. They believed that ceremonies were pagan and of the devil. Because

the majority of Canadians were of Christian origin, they supported anything

that would ensure the extinguishment of pagan ways. While they believed

what they were doing was right, the disrespect for our spiritual beliefs was a

big mistake.

Assimilation efforts served to confuse the sense of identity and the sense of

personal worth of those affected. Ceremony teaches personal responsibility

for one’s words and actions and reciprocity, or giving and taking. When

ceremony was outlawed, 2 they removed the very resource needed to heal

from the abuse experienced by some of the people who attended residential

schools. Individuals who have a spiritual foundation or who live the values

and principles of the ceremonies we participate in have been most successful

in reconciling with the effects of these social policies. While this sounds like

a quick fix, it is not: there are many valleys and hills in our journey toward

accepting that it is our choice if we stay in that pain or do the work necessary

to move forward. In my case, it has been a thirty-seven-year journey and I

still need to reflect on my choices when I become angry, scared, or hurt. In

the words of Elder Abe Burnstick, “It’s up to you! We don’t get something … for

nothing, we gotta earn it!”

The people and communities who have continued to move toward a place

of spiritual peace—or reconciliation—have understood that while Canada

took these things away from us, it is our personal responsibility to strengthen

ceremony within our families, communities, and society. Traditional and/

or Christian ceremony is critical to reconciliation. The Bible and traditional

ceremony each teaches with different words and rituals, but with similar

living principles. The core of those two ways teaches us “To love your

neighbour as yourself.” Or in our way, it is the well-being of the collective that

is core, and we must work to co-exist with others in a good way.

One teaching included in ceremony is the power of wind spirit. The wind

spirit brings us to a place of change—change in seasons, in our lives, and

in our daily choices. Our wind spirit is one of the strongest because it gives

us the capacity to speak when we use our breath or wind spirit. When we

362 | Maggie Hodgson

speak, we have a responsibility to pay attention to our voice tone, the words

we use, the names we call people, and whether we build people up or tear

them down. Wind spirit is heard in sweat lodges, in Christian hymns, and in

traditional singing. Western therapists in bioenergetics encourage the use

of wind spirit to release feelings through song or giving voice to one’s pain,

except when we use it in ceremony, and we don’t have to pay one hundred

dollars an hour for therapy. It is our therapy.

Do we use our wind spirit to sing our joy Or do we use our wind spirit to

yell at government lawyers This occurred at a residential school meeting a

couple of years ago. A very dedicated IRSRC 3 lawyer who works hard to ensure

he listens to ways the system can work more effectively for former students

was yelled at by three Elders. Later, an angry participant walked toward him

punching into the air with clenched fists while the crowd of former students

clapped and cheered him on. Afterwards, many of the participants laughed

about how frightened the lawyer was. My heart went out to him. Is this what

was learned in residential school How to bully Is this what gangs in our

streets do Is this where our kids are learning this use of the wind spirit, from

our very own role models, the parents and Elders in our community How

many of these people were even aware of the teachings of the ceremony that

speaks to the gift of wind spirit and how we have to respect this gift The

flip side of that picture was when I was at a Saskatchewan Chiefs’ meeting

and a Senator of the FSIN 4 spoke before the meeting. He said we have to

treat these people with respect because they do not make the rules, they are

just messengers sent to tell us something. Is it only Canada that needs to


Let she who is without mistake cast the first stone!

Or should we also apologize for our treatment of government messengers

I say this as a person who has done these things at times in my past. I

am ashamed of my behaviour and my words. I was told years later about

something I said to a public person at a public meeting, and I immediately

took the opportunity to ask forgiveness for my disrespect. I gave him a gift

as is taught in my ceremony as a way to correct mistakes that affect the

spirit of others. When reflecting upon the disrespect sometimes directed

at government officials, some community members have responded with a

defensive “Now they know how we felt!” It is our choice how we use our gift of

wind spirit within the context of our daily lives and in our personal journey

toward reconciliation. As Abe Burnstick said, “It’s up to you!”

Another gift that can be used to heal ourselves is water spirit. Water is one

of our medicines. Water spirit keeps us alive. Our eyes have water. Our body

From Truth to Reconciliation | 363

is made up of water. Our tears are water. Tom Badger, an Elder from Beaver

Lake, said, “Rain cleanses the earth and our tears cleanse our souls.” 5

Water spirit is a gift we use when we cry. In residential school, many people

learned not to cry. When children cried in residential school and there was

no response except, “I’ll give you something to cry for!” they learned to shut

down sadness. Over time, they built such a wall around their sadness that

when they cry now, they say, “I broke down.” When children cried themselves

to sleep because they missed their parents so much, they eventually learned

they could cry all they wanted but they were still not going home. This is

one of the roots of poor mental health. The sense of abandonment was

experienced by many children. They wondered why their parents did not

come to visit them. After one hundred years, there was not much water spirit

left; in its place was hopelessness, a deep sense of abandonment, and anger.

This proved to be fertilizer for suicide and addictions.

In the mid-1800s, French sociologist Emile Durkheim spoke about the

result of attempts to replace the values and beliefs of one group of people

with those of another. 6 When those attempts are unsuccessful, the result is

anomie, a sense of hopelessness and alienation from traditional values and

beliefs that can result in social problems such as addictions and suicide.

A recent publication, Suicide Among Aboriginal People in Canada, notes

that Durkheim’s theory “still provides a useful way to understand some

of the harmful effects of social breakdown and disruption in Aboriginal

communities that have come from colonization, forced assimilation, and

relocation.” 7 Reversing the effects of hundreds of years of social disruption

and alienation will take time. Reconciliation for the collective is a long-term

process. Thank the Creator we are in that process in many people’s lives.

Collective Reconciliation

The road to addressing trauma and reconciliation did not just start with the

current litigation. 8 Our community had to first deal with the impact of the

removal of ceremony—the community dysfunction that resulted from the

removal of ceremony as well as the disruption of family support systems and

loss of loved ones.

Most people who attended residential school focus on their experience of

the abuse they suffered there; however, they usually only speak in private

about the abuse and neglect they may have suffered within their own family

or society. The years of alcoholism and violence experienced within families

and communities from about the 1950s to the 1970s has not been addressed in

the same public way as the residential school experience. Many people prefer

to see these issues as being the result of colonization. That is a political world

364 | Maggie Hodgson

view. The therapeutic view is that regardless of where the abuse began, we

have to acknowledge that in some cases it continued within our own families.

The drinking was a direct response to the state of hopelessness and loss of

identity caused by genocidal policies. However, beginning in the early 1970s,

our families and communities dealt with the rampant drinking and violence

with the support of provincial and federal funding. The very governments

that structured the legislation outlawing our ceremonies supported the

development of community-based, community-designed treatment

programs managed and staffed by Aboriginal people under the direction

of Elders. These centres embodied the very elements that were previously

outlawed as pagan. Many of the people attending these programs were not

only treated for their alcoholism, they also learned about ceremony. They

learned through teachings that held ideas, values, and principles basic to

individual and community mental health. Treatment built the understanding

necessary so we could restore our spirits and take responsibility for preparing

the way for our grandchildren.

After three generations of involvement in treatment and recovery programs,

our people started to return to post-secondary institutions, in part, to ensure

our community professionals were from our communities. We were moving

forward with our willingness to take responsibility to offset the genocidal

acts on our spirit. The results are reflected in the number of Aboriginal

people attending post-secondary institutions. Aboriginal enrolment in postsecondary

institutions paralleled the huge increase in sobriety during those

same years. 9 The Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission (AADAC) and

the National Native Alcohol and Drug Abuse Program (NNADAP 10 ) funded

about one hundred treatment programs across Canada. 11 These programs

were staffed and managed by Aboriginal people and ceremony was a centre

post to treatment. We were on the move with passion!

Individuals and families continued in our process of healing and

reconciliation. This became the foundation of the treatment centre

movement, and it strengthened ceremony as a centre post to being at a place

where trauma could more readily be put on the table. It was put on the table

by social activists like Eric Shirt in treatment development and Charlene

Belleau in community healing. There were other courageous people who

came forward with criminal charges dealing with residential school

abuse, and there were many others who worked to strengthen community.

Charlene Belleau hosted the first National Residential School Conference

with nine hundred people attending in 1990. I was part of a national

television show about residential schools in the late 1980s. I was afraid there

might be backlash because not only did we talk about the residential school

From Truth to Reconciliation | 365

experience, but also about community violence. There was no fallout from

the show. Georges Erasmus was the first National Chief to have a motion

passed by the Assembly of Chiefs requesting that the issue of residential

schools be addressed. National Chief Fontaine broke the silence from

leadership when he spoke about his own abuse in residential school. Our

communities were ready to deal with historic trauma now that so many of

our people had attended recovery programs and many more were pursuing

post-secondary education.

The process of reconciliation relies on the foundation laid by the person, the

group, and the community to bring our spirits to a place of readiness to be

willing to reconcile. Readiness of the wounded and timing are both critical

to the success of reconciliation. The healthier we are, the more we are willing

to understand the other group’s perspective. To say we understand does not

mean we agree with the historic offender’s world view of our relationship.

It simply means that we understand where they come from. Based on the

foundation laid by the addictions recovery movement, along with the

strengthening of ceremony and the increased participation in education

and therapy, we were ready to deal with trauma. The Aboriginal Healing

Foundation’s program evaluation clearly stated that the majority of former

students accessed traditional ceremony holders and Elders in their treatment

for trauma. 12 Some clients selected both traditional and Western therapy

modes to deal with their trauma. An estimated total of 111,170 participants

attended AHF-funded healing activites, and well over half of those

participants accessed services to engage in healing for the very first time. 13

The common experience payment provided for in the Indian Residential

Schools Settlement Agreement (2006) is to acknowledge the trauma of

residential schools, the policy of outlawing ceremony, the loss of language,

and the impacts on students of being removed from their family. The

term “common experience payment” covertly talks about the results of

legislation to outlaw ceremony and the impact of removing generations

of children from their parents. I am always amazed at how the English

language can sanitize the most horrific experiences. Regardless of the

words used, it is a just settlement. For some, the payment will be a form of

reconciliation because it will be seen as a public acknowledgement that

they cried themselves to sleep without their parents and suffered because of

their removal from ceremony to heal themselves.

An alternative dispute resolution process (ADR) to resolve claims of injury

was established in 2002. Deputy Minister Mario Dion of IRSRC had the

choice of either following the usual government process of appointing a chief

adjudicator from within the government’s political circles or choosing to listen

366 | Maggie Hodgson

to the Aboriginal Working Caucus’s recommendation; he chose to listen to the

working caucus. 14 The caucus recommended that the selection for the chief

adjudicator and for all the adjudicators be made by all of the stakeholders,

including Survivors, Church entities, plaintiffs’ legal counsel, and Canada.

There was a traditional ceremony along with an Anglican blessing for the

ADR process and the chief adjudicator. People from all the stakeholder groups

participated in the blessing. Everyone either prayed or sang a song to celebrate

the occasion along with holding the usual feast. This is a traditional process

for choosing leaders. Within tradition, there is an agreement from the whole

group as to who is the best person to do the job; it is not a process based on

political patronage. One more step toward shared decision making. This is

collaborative law and an act of reconciliation and sharing of power.

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects

and enhances the freedom of others.” 15

— Nelson Mandella

The freedom that Nelson Mandela speaks about was manifested when

government, the Assembly of First Nations, plaintiffs’ lawyers, and the

churches worked together to deal with the legal response to residential

schools. He could also have been speaking about the foundation we

laid with the increase in post-secondary enrolment and the creation

of community-driven alcohol and drug treatment. These are examples

of how we brought our strengths together to take responsibility for

individual and collective change.

The thirty years of work to prepare for this time of settlement has borne fruit,

and there has been excellent work done in reconciliation over that time. This

reconciliation embodies the traditional justice processes that have been

incorporated into government policies and practices. For example, if a former

student wants to have a traditional ceremony within their hearing, they are

supported to have the Elder of their choice present to conduct ceremony.

Elders are compensated for counselling and crisis support as any other

professionals are compensated. This took five years to achieve; however, it

was finally included within the structure of the hearings. One more step in

reconciliation and the work required to reverse the outlawing of ceremonies.

Family and Community Choices in Reconciliation: A Case Example

An Elder received his compensation, paid off his bills, and invested the rest

of his money into adding on to his home so his son and his family could live

with him. The family shared in the cost of the renovations. The Elder is in

a wheelchair and has many health challenges. He now has the benefit of

having family with him to ensure he is safe if he faces a health crisis. He has

From Truth to Reconciliation | 367

a new investment in life with his grandchildren who show him love every

day. Paying off his credit cards was a very big relief for the Elder and his wife

because the old age pension is their only income. They also accessed the

treatment planning money for extra counselling and traditional healing

ceremonies for their family.

The family is active in ceremony throughout the year. They have invested in

restoring balance within the family. In their case, this was not a response to

receiving money, it has been a twenty-year investment. The Elder had been an

active drinker but he has been sober for about twenty-plus years. During his

drinking years, he manifested many of the behaviours many drinkers follow.

His parenting and his relationship with his spouse were challenging during

this time. Since his recovery, he has been an active participant and ceremony

holder. He has been involved with his family in dealing with his lifestyle

choices during those drinking years. He has had many one-to-one times with

his children about their unmet needs during those years.

He had held fasting ceremonies on his land, and in one four-year period,

he hosted a group of priests and nuns who chose to fast with the Aboriginal

people. This provided a place for dialogue in the days before the fast and

an opportunity for the nuns and priests to deal with their pain of hearing

the experiences from all the former students in their parishes. A place of

understanding unfolded. All of the parties opened themselves to hearing

the other group’s perspectives and experiences. Each person faced their own

pain and found a new connection toward building respect, acceptance, and

shared relationship.

Now, his son carries on ceremonies for the community to come together to

share in the process of rebuilding community through ceremony. This is one

more step in Nelson Mandela’s statement of “freedom” and its meaning in

our lives. The Elder’s son, two daughters, and his wife are all abstainers, not

because they were ever alcoholics, but because they live a lifestyle that does

not need that source of stimulation. They have ceremonies and their family

to provide pure stimulation. The family has hosted local National Day of

Healing and Reconciliation ceremonies held each year on May 26 th .

At one time, there was a boycott of the local town by the reserve because of

remarks made by a town councillor. Local businesses, school board trustees,

and townspeople were invited to attend a reconciliation walk with about

seven hundred First Nation people. They walked with the former residential

school students and their families, listened to Survivors’ speeches, visited

the grave site of the students who died while in the school, and ended the

walk with a feast to enjoy good company. Their action of inviting the town’s

368 | Maggie Hodgson

usiness people and others resulted in the boycott changing to a place of

choosing education as a way of resolving differences, along with building

relationship based on mutual respect.

An adjudicator drove until two in the morning to get to the intensive care

unit where the Elder was recovering after a critical health crisis to mediate

an emergency ADR hearing to resolve his claim. The Elder indicated that the

hearing was very sensitive to his medical condition. The very government

that made the policy to outlaw his ceremonies now valued him enough to

bring an adjudicator out across the border to conduct his hearing in a hospital

room where medical people could help him because he had suffered a heart

attack the day before. He said he experienced the adjudicator to be kind,

gentle, compassionate, supportive, and sensitive to his fragile health. Being

treated with respect by the system that previously treated you unkindly is an act

of reconciliation.

Sometimes people apologize because they have to, and sometimes they do

not apologize but their behaviour changes. That is an act of reconciliation in

itself. As Elder Wolfleg said it, “Don’t tell me! Show me!”

The Elder’s daughter came to his hearing along with friends and a resolution

health support worker. This provided the daughter with an opportunity to

hear his pain and to better understand why he had acted the way he did for

many years. However, he had a difficult emotional time for a few days after

talking about what he had experienced. He has been able to return home

because his family is there to take care of him. Even in his frail health he

opens his home to government people so they might dialogue with him

to build understanding about our shared history. Sometimes, building

understanding takes us one more step toward manifesting reconciliation in

our lives. It heals the soul murder 16 that happened when he was called names,

humiliated, and beaten until he lost his hearing in residential school. He says

no matter what happens he will never forget what was done to him; however,

he is peaceful when looking back to the healing and reconciliation that has

happened within his family circle. Together they participate in ceremonies

and they share a commitment to educating others about Aboriginal

approaches to management, healing, and education processes.

At the last fasting ceremony, there was a local farmer who attended the berry

ceremony as part of their “good neighbour practice,” and a local doctor and

his wife came to the berry ceremony to participate in the drumming, singing,

and feasting. Those neighbours stand as witnesses to the richness of the

practices that were outlawed and now stand restored. These neighbours stand

in a place of mutual respect and now understand why those historic laws

From Truth to Reconciliation | 369

were so devastating to this family and how they have taken the responsibility

to restore ritual, ceremony, belonging, and compassion in their hearts.

Long-Term Community Investment in Wellness: A Case Example

In another community, a woman took her compensation and paid off her

car, helped her son with the cost of a couple of courses to upgrade his marks,

paid off her credit cards, and invested the balance of the money into an

RRSP. She has accessed years of therapy to assist her in dealing with the

criminal charges she laid against the person she had been abused by. She

had a five-year civil court battle in order to reach a settlement on the abuse

she suffered. Her family is involved in learning about and participating in

ceremony and attends church with a focus of maintaining their addictionsfree

lifestyle. She is a former leader of her community and maintains her

leadership through informal role modelling in lifestyle choices. She is a postsecondary

graduate. She obtained her post-secondary education as the court

processes were going on.

She participated in a community reconciliation ceremony with other

Survivors of abuse suffered at the hands of a member of a religious order. It

was a very difficult process because all the people did not accept the concept

of community-based reconciliation ceremonies, and there were many bitter

people there, including some of the victims of abuse. However, for some of

the people, the ceremony was one more step toward healing. Not everybody

was in the same place in terms of forgiving.

She has participated in community commemoration ceremonies that include

Survivors who have settled their claims, family members, IRSRC staff who

offered apologies on behalf of Canada, and representatives from the RCMP,

the church entity, surrounding municipalities, local service agencies, and

non-Aboriginal neighbours. They held a feast, a tobacco-burning ceremony,

and a grieving ceremony in memory of family members who died in the

schools or passed on since being in the school. Daily sweat lodges were

available during their hearings. They had a balloon ceremony where they

released a balloon that had their residential school number on it, and they let

the balloon with the number go into the wind to be carried away. They had

all of this along with a community dance with former students who played

in the residential school band entertaining. One man who was a big-looking

cowboy with big shoulders, big belt buckle, and a big hat said to himself when

he released his balloon, “If I never get a penny out of this it will have been

worth it to go through this today!”

One gentleman, who had chosen not to return to the community after his

school experience, lived in the inner city of Vancouver. They went to pick him

370 | Maggie Hodgson

up to come home for the ceremony. He had left a community that suffered

from huge amounts of addiction and came home to a community of people

who were largely sober and moving forward and were welcoming. They had

gone through a healing process of getting treatment for the majority of the

people abusing alcohol and drugs, gambling, and dealing with trauma long

before the residential school settlement was on the table. When the Elders

came into the hall for their welcome home ceremony, their grandchildren

were yelling, “Welcome home Grandma!” Welcome home Grandpa!”

“Welcome home Mom, Dad, and Uncle!” Tears were flowing down the faces

of the former students and family members. However, they understood that

the commemoration ceremony was not necessarily closure for many people. It

was one more step in the process leading toward balance.

This community had a public inquiry on residential schools. This was long

before the ADR process was fully developed. The community funded and

recorded its own “Public Inquiry” into residential schools. It was set up to

ensure that the old people’s experience would be recorded prior to their

death. This was the only community that chose to host its own inquiry with a

judge, a therapist/healer, and a respected leader in their region of Canada as

their commissioners. Ceremony was an intricate part of the inquiry.

A community-based justice process was initiated to address the

intergenerational impacts of community violence. Community-based

violence had never been dealt with because people did not want community

members to go to jail. A protocol was developed that had the support of the

attorney general, the RCMP, and the community. They provided therapy for

intergenerational sexual abuse after there was enough sobriety to deal with

living relationships. Some of their community members were charged with

sexual abuse, and the community supported them to get the therapy they

needed. Community members took responsibility for community change.

This process was underway long before residential school issues came

to the forefront. Ceremony and treatment were integral to the process of

community change. Activities expanded to include awareness of addiction to

gambling. They clearly understood that the key treatment issue for gamblers

is unresolved grief.

A number of victims and their extended families participated in a

reconciliation process with a priest who had abused them. They attended

a ceremony, which also dealt with all of the priest’s victims who had died.

They did this through a tobacco ceremony, pipe ceremony, and a sweat

lodge ceremony. The priest attended with his therapist and the former

students’ therapists. The process was ceremony from beginning to end

From Truth to Reconciliation | 371

along with reconciliation words and actions. One of the Survivors used his

compensation money to repair the church roof and to pay his bills off.

This community pioneered and participated in the most focused research

project on residential school impacts in Canada. They did this to take one

more step toward taking responsibility. They brought the residential trauma

program into their community for their Elders and also to facilitate family

participation in the program. They started having annual fasting ceremonies

which young people attend with their families. They hosted a sweat lodge

every day during their ADR pilot project, and they had the rosary in the church

every night for those people who still attended church. They continue to have

an annual celebration of sobriety and wellness. They have annual fasting

ceremonies which the elderly, children, and families participate in. This helps

to strengthen relationships, and it helps with their learning about taking

responsibility. They have an annual “Unity Ride,” which has the participation

of community members, cowboys, non-Aboriginal neighbours, government

staff, children, RCMP, and Survivors. This event lasts a couple of days. It is part

of moving forward in healing from the residential school experience.

The lady, spoken of earlier, and her community have made excellent choices

along the road to wellness. There is a growing understanding of what

reconciliation is on a daily basis. This is a good example of a community

working together to deal with residential school issues through personal, family,

and community reconciliation and healing. The process has encompassed

traditional ceremony, Western therapy, alcohol and drug treatment, trauma

treatment, gambling treatment, and a lot of hard work collectively.

Challenges and Opportunities for Reconciliation

There is reconciliation for historic acts that have affected our people, and

there are the current day-to-day events that have historic beginnings. I

work on interchange with Indian Residential Schools Resolution Canada as

a Special Advisor to the Deputy Minister. I also provide advice on pending

policy where I am asked to participate. My community is my advisor.

When the adjudicator selection process was initially being developed, there

was a policy that said adjudicators had to have five-plus years experience in

adjudicating. This did not sit well with me. I believed that policy set the bar to

omit the majority of Aboriginal lawyers because few, if any, Aboriginal lawyers

ever sit on adjudication boards, as these are often politically appointed

positions. I was having a difficult discussion with another policy person about

this requirement. My argument was that even judges do not have to have five

years’ previous experience in being a judge before they are appointed.

372 | Maggie Hodgson

Things became heated and I said to her, “You would have made a good

Indian Agent in the 1950s!” On thinking about my cruel statement later, I

realized how I had abused her as I and many of our people had been abused

historically. In my traditional ceremony of the Potlatch, when we wrong

people, we have to gift them, along with all of our clan members who have

to gift them as well. It is intended to teach about respect, and it also teaches

that abuse not only hurts the person but also the collective. I had affected

her spirit so, at the next staff meeting, I brought a blanket to give to her and

I asked her to forgive me for being so unkind with my words. Coming from

a different culture, she thought it was not necessary for me to give her a gift

since I had apologized. In fact, I had not apologized in the Western way of

doing things, I had acknowledged that my words had affected her spirit. The

gift was to acknowledge the spiritual effect of the unkindness. While I do not

live within my region where Potlatches are held, I bring my potlatch with me

and I work at ensuring that I acknowledge it when I am disrespectful of my

co-workers. You know, when you have to buy enough blankets and quilts, it

brings to mind to keep yourself in a more respectful way and to treat others with

the respect that you expect from them.

Large systems do not encourage people to take responsibility. When the upset

takes place within a large forum, most often, if people apologize, they do it

in a small corner where no one else can hear them. Taking responsibility

within ceremony has taught me to embrace the teachings of those important

ceremonies that were outlawed by Canada at one time. It has also taught me

that I need to teach my grandchildren with my words.

Often in the Western Christian world when people make a poor choice that

affects other people, they refer to it as sin. In our community, the old people

refer to it as “Mistake.” Mistake is less laden with guilt and more conducive to

owning responsibility for one’s actions. This attitudinal choice of “Mistake” is

more of a traditional thought than the Western world view where blame and

sin comes from.

I was at a meeting with a residential school Survivors’ group when a person

from a political group started to attack me and my co-worker. We were all

Aboriginal. He indicated that the only Aboriginal people who worked at

IRSRC were apple Indians who sold out our people. He did this with hatred

in his eyes, with a loud tone to his voice, and with his finger pointing up

and down to emphasize his anger. His words burned into my spirit until my

spirit bled with tears that did not show themselves in my eyes. I replied that

I had worked on the residential school issue since 1985 when I was trying to

get Health Canada to understand why there needed to be more resources to

deal with residential school trauma. I had worked on the St. George’s trial

From Truth to Reconciliation | 373

supporting the victims behind the criminal charges being brought against

the staff member who was convicted for sexual abuse. I had worked with

the Survivors of the O’Connor action. I helped to facilitate the first national

residential school conference in 1991. I had a stroke after having a blowout

with a Justice lawyer about having a mediator in to resolve a group settlement

that was going off the rails. I had virtually almost given up my life for my

commitment to this work. I was very hurt by his words.

Sometimes, time is what is needed to dissolve pain. There had been no

change in behaviour from the person who hurt me. Reconciliation can

happen if we just have time to let the pain pass. I invited him to my house

recently, along with other friends, to feast after a meeting in our city. There

were no words of “I forgive you.” The action of inviting him to my home

was my act of reconciliation. Within that reconciliation, within my heart,

there is no expectation from him that he is willing to change how he treats

people or that he is even aware of his behaviour. I met him at a community

function in our work, and he came up to me and gave me a hug with warmth.

He was saying I am sorry for what happened. Words were not spoken and

reconciliation happened.

Reconciliation as it relates to residential schools does not only rest in the

era of when the schools were open. Acts of lateral violence between people

working in this field happen. It is a part of the legacy we can either hang onto

to excuse our behaviour or we can take responsibility to make other decisions

in how we deal with these acts of spiritual abuse. The current day acts of

lateral violence that relate to work we do within the field are not separate

and apart from our history, they are a manifestation of our history. As Elder

Burnstick says, “It is up to you!” It is what you do with current choices of our

treatment of each other.

The National Day of Healing and Reconciliation (NDHR) is intended to

assist us in focusing our attention on being reflective of when we are unkind

to other people and in looking at ways to build understanding when we

come from a place of not agreeing. There are ceremonies across Canada in

which Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal community leaders promote NDHR

on May 26 th of each year. The intent is not to create reconciliation activities

for only that day, it is to show that every day is an opportunity to take

inventory of what we did that day and to make moves to reconcile. Further,

the intent is to strengthen education about our residential school history

within Canada by engaging our schools, churches, and communities to

build bridges. A good example of this is the berry ceremony referred to

earlier where the local medical doctor attended in order to gain a better

understanding of the meaning when we talk of ceremony. NDHR’s goal is

374 | Maggie Hodgson

to strengthen understanding and reconciliation. Reconciliation is not only

an Aboriginal people’s issue, it is also a Canadian issue! Elder Burnstick

placed the responsibility for change where it belongs. When we all take

responsibility for choices in reconciliation, we show that we understand

him when he says, “It is up to you!”

Future Challenges in Reconciliation

Our future challenge in reconciliation is the great opportunity to host our

National Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Each community can

decide if the process will be traditionally rooted and decide on the place

where we want to host regional events. Will we choose to have them on

the land Will we choose to have them in big city conference centres Will

we bring pictures that hold our memories of residential schools Will we

collaborate with the people in our region to ensure we are not fighting about

which communities will host the hearings Will we invite local college and

university classes to come to hear the testimony of our former students

Will we invite our local churches to work with us on the planning of the

commission hearings This is a huge opportunity to become “FREE” to

choose the possibilities of how the Truth and Reconciliation Commission

will happen. What will we do with the information given at the Truth

Commission Will we take the information to our classrooms and our

broader Canadian circles to open the opportunity for a broader dialogue of

“Where do we go from here together” “IT IS UP TO YOU!”

From Truth to Reconciliation | 375


1 Leslie, J. and R. Maguire (ed.) (1978:115). The Historical Development of the Indian Act,

second edition. Ottawa, ON: Treaties and Historical Research Centre, Indian Affairs and

Northern Development.

2 Amendments to the Indian Act in 1884 prohibited the Potlatch and the Tamanawas dance

(see Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (1996), Volume 1: Looking Forward Looking

Back, Section 2, chapter 9.5).

3 IRSRC (Indian Residential Schools Resolution Canada).

4 FSIN (Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations).

5 Tom Badger spoke these words at a training session for front line workers in 1981 at Nechi

Institute. The Elder has since passed on, but is remembered through his oral teachings.

6 Durkheim, E. (1951). Suicide: A Study in Sociology (J.A. Spaulding and G. Simpson, trans.).

New York, NY: The Free Press. (Original work published 1897.)

7 Kirmayer, Laurence J., Gregory M. Brass, Tara Holton, Ken Paul, Cori Simpson, and

Caroline Tait (2007:55). Suicide Among Aboriginal People in Canada. Ottawa, ON:

Aboriginal Healing Foundation. (Text cites Davenport, J.A. and J Davenport III (1987).

Native American Suicide: A Durkheimian Analysis. Social Casework 68(9):533–539.)

8 This began in the early nineties by courageous former students and later moved into

the class-action suit that has been agreed to by the courts with the four pillars of

commemoration, common experience payment, truth and reconciliation commission,

and the independent assessment process.

9 The exact number of Aboriginal people enrolled in post-secondary institutions over the

years is difficult to pin down. The Centre for Social Justice (

index.phppage=aboriginal-issues) reports, “In 1969, only 800 Aboriginal peoples had a

post-secondary education. By 1991, the number was 150,000.” The Department of Indian

Affairs reported the following: “In the mid-1960s, there were about 200 Status Indian

students enrolled at Canadian colleges and universities. By 1999, the number had soared

to more than 27,000” (“Post-Secondary Education for Status Indians and Inuit, December

2000, retrieved 1 November 2007 from

html). Factors contributing to this discrepancy likely include whether or not numbers

refer to Aboriginal people or “status” Indians and whether or not part-time enrolment

numbers are also included.

10 The original National Native Alcohol Abuse Program (NNAAP) began in 1975 as a pilot

project and was run as a joint initiative between the departments of Indian Affairs and

Northern Development and Health and Welfare Canada (

“The renamed and fully conceptualized, permanent National Native Alcohol and Drug

Abuse Program (NNADAP) was established in fiscal year 1982/83. Health Canada

assumed full responsibility for the program” (

nnadap/historical_milestones.php). First Nations and Inuit Health Branch reports

the following information: “NNADAP supports a national network of 52 residential

treatment centres, with some 700 treatment beds” and “Today, NNADAP provides over

550 prevention programs with over 700 workers - almost all employed by First Nations

and Inuit communities “(

11 I recall that there were sixty treatment programs funded by NNADAP, fifteen AADAC

with in situ treatment programs during those years, and mobile community-based

treatment programs operating during that time.

376 | Maggie Hodgson

12 Kishk Anaquot Health Research (2006:81). Final Report of the Aboriginal Healing

Foundation, Volume II, Measuring Progress: Program Evaluation. Ottawa, ON: Aboriginal

Healing Foundation. “When considering the types of services used and their perceived

efficacy, Elders, ceremony, one-on-one counselling, healing or talking circles, traditional

medicine, opportunities to gather, share and bond with other Survivors and their

families, as well as Legacy education and land-based activities were considered most


13 Kishk Anaquot Health Research (2006).

14 The Aboriginal Working Caucus was a group of former residential school students,

therapists, and Elders who were appointed by the Deputy Minister as advisors to his

office on policy changes needed within IRSRC. Further, they followed the direction

from the 1999 Exploratory Dialogues that was made up of five hundred former students,

church entities, government lawyers, and family members of former students who set out

the original principles that became the road map for the Settlement Agreement.

15 Electronic excerpt from Nelson Mandela (1994). Long Walk to Freedom: The

Autobiography of Nelson Mandela. Boston, MA: Little Brown and Co. Retrieved 15

November 2007 from:

html Retrieved from:

16 “Soul murder” can be described as the trauma inflicted on children by adults willfully

abusing and neglecting them.

From Truth to Reconciliation | 377

An Indian school near Woodstock, New Brunswick, date unknown

Photographer: William James Topley

Library and Archives Canada, PA-010657

(This photo can also be found, along with many other resources, at www.

More magazines by this user
Similar magazines